Spinal Cartilage Degeneration and Treatment

Category: Spine | Author: Stefano Sinicropi

Spinal Cartilage Degeneration

Cartilage is a connective tissue that is located between joints or spinal discs to provide cushioning and facilitate movement in the area. Unfortunately, due to acute injury or natural degeneration, cartilage can wear down, which can inhibit movement or make it painful. Today, we take a look at some of the causes, symptoms and treatment options for spinal cartilage degeneration.

Causes and Symptoms of Spinal Cartilage Degeneration

As we alluded to in the intro paragraph, cartilage degeneration commonly occurs when acute trauma happens in the area, or it occurs very slowly over time. You might think that movement of these discs and joints serves to break down the cartilage, but movement and exercise can actually help strengthen these areas. Lack of movement or spinal exercise can actually be worse for your cartilage than overworking the spine, but a healthy medium is best.

Symptoms of problems related to a spinal cartilage issue include:

  • Localized spine pain
  • Radiating spine pain
  • Numbness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Inhibited gait

Some of the more common spinal conditions that can result as a direct cause of degenerating spinal disc cartilage include a herniated or bulging disc, degenerative disc disease, and spinal stenosis.

Diagnosis and Treatment Of Degenerating Spinal Cartilage

Modern medicine has made it much easier for doctors to diagnose problems associated with degenerative spinal cartilage. However, the first thing a good spinal specialist will do when you walk into their office is to conduct a physical exam. This will allow the doctor to get a better understanding of which areas of your spine are hurting, and they’ll ask you about your symptoms and what makes pain worse or better.

After the physical exam, a spine specialist will likely move forward with a diagnostic imaging test. The most common test for checking for cartilage damage is an MRI, which uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create a detailed picture of the body. Another common diagnostic tool is called an arthroscopy, which is better able to diagnose cartilage damage in joints like the knee or elbow.

Once cartilage degeneration is confirmed, your doctor will walk you through your treatment options. In most cases, conservative treatment options will be the first choice, where things like physical therapy, targeted exercise routines, pain medications or strength training and stretching will be used to see if pain alleviates. Many people find that their pain decreases or absolves fully when they are committed to a conservative care plan.

Minnesota Spine Surgeon

If, however, pain becomes chronic and is non-responsive to conservative care, surgery may be on the table. Surgical procedures like artificial disc replacement or spinal fusion can help to prevent pain caused by a loss of spinal cartilage. Your surgeon can walk you through the specifics should your pain progress this far, but it’s worth noting that many of these surgeries have very high success rates.

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